By Kip Tabb | Outer Banks Voice on November 25, 2020
Despite the challenges of traveling during this surge in the COVID-19 pandemic, property managers say Thanksgiving week 2020 may be the best one for visitors that they have seen. They do point out that while this is a time when many homeowners here gather with their families, others are making their homes available for renters.
“There are owners that this is sacrosanct, their Thanksgiving week. So we do have a number of owners here,” Tim Cafferty, President of Outer Banks Blue said. But he also notes that more owners than usual have chosen to leave their homes available this year. “We have more of them [rentals] available this year than in the past and we have been able to fill them all,” he said.
Monica Thibodeau, Managing Partner of Carolina Designs has seen the same trends. “We had a huge visitor influx this weekend [for weekly rentals],” she said. “Some homeowners do block the week, but we are definitely packed. We’ve got a lot of people down here.”
Thanksgiving Week has traditionally been strong for home rentals on the Outer Banks, with many families planning yearly annual visits and family gatherings for the week. The strong occupancy numbers enjoyed at Thanksgiving, however, do not appear to include hotels.
Maleta Slaughter, General Manager of the Hatteras Island Inn, doesn’t see Thanksgiving as a particularly strong time of the year. “Thanksgiving Day isn’t looking too good for us,” she said. “But the weekend, we’re getting some reservations in. The weather’s supposed to be good. It’ll probably be significant. We’ll end up getting last minute walk-ins.”
Slaughter’s remark about weather driving visitors to local hotels and motels is in line with offseason trends in visitation indicating that weather is a strong factor when people decide whether they are going to spend a weekend by the sea. The forecasts predict sunny if cool weather for Saturday and Sunday.
“I believe it’ll be better than last year,” she said.
The Outer Banks restaurant industry has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19 protocols. Revenues at Dare County restaurants, as reported but the Visitors Bureau, are down almost 22% for the year through September, according to the most recent reporting.
Wes Stepp, owner of Red Sky Cafe and NC Coast Grill & Bar in Duck, is one of the most experienced chefs on the Outer Banks. He points out that chefs have to think differently about what they’re doing this year.
“You’re not doing the same [seating] capacity because we’re at half capacity, and people are very conscientious about social distancing and the COVID protocols,” he said. “If you’re used to an Owens or Kelly’s back in the day, that business model is going to be impacted because you’re just not going to be able to seat the same amount of people.”
What he points out, though, is that opportunities are still there for restauranteurs. “It’s going to be busy this year,” he said. “For the in-house [service], we’re only doing reservations that have been properly managed.”
Where Stepp sees the real potential is having a prepared meal ready for families who wish to eat at home.
“What we’ve done is we’ve created the gobbler to go. We really focused on Thanksgiving together,” he explained. “So, although we’re not going to be able to do the exact same thing that we did in the past, I still think we’re going to hit some great numbers because of the to-go service.”